The Dears

No Cities Left

(Universal; 2003)

By Scott Reid | 8 August 2003

"You had to see the look on his face to even contemplate how confused he must've felt," he said, "but before walking off the stage, he thanked them! Thanks the crowd for boo-ing him so badly the band refused to keep playing! That crazy motherfucker. And if that wasn't enough, he tells the crowd he'd be back, and when he did, they'd be lining up for the chance to see him live again."

My uncle is many things: avid Neil Young fan, a chain smoker, exaggerater of stories and all-around Journey aficionado. About the fifth time he'd recited this story to me, he explained that Young, who the above story he swears is about, would not long after head south, to California, and start Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills. Not long after, his prediction was coming true; people were paying money to actually listen to his music, not for another chance to boo his hobo-looking ass off stage.

For a nation that complains about its musical talent being ignored on the world stage, we rarely look at our artists or musicians as seminal until another country accepts them with open arms. Usually, who can blame us? Barenaked Ladies aren't exactly what we'd like to be seen as the "Canadian" sound, Our Lady Peace only found more people to annoy by gaining international "appeal," and Nickelback is, well, Nickelback. Most of our hip hop manages to make an infamously "cool" genre as lame as Paul Anka. And let's not pretend there's not a lot of truth to our wanting to apologize for Bryan Adams.

So when we come across a band that truly deserves international attention--most recently (depending on who you ask, at least) the Hidden Cameras, Broken Social Scene, Heavy Blinkers, or the New Pornographers, for starters--we tend to try too hard to convince the rest of the world that we're not just an Our Lady Peace/Swollen Members/Nelly Furtado/Moxy Fruvous/Neil Young-hating sort of anti-talent/pro-Venga Boys country. After-all, it's not like the U.S. hasn't dealt with their Creeds or the UK with their assault of boring pretensious art-rock that the Dears suddenly seem obsessed with.

When the Dears dropped their excellent End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story a few years ago, many critics jumped to name them the next big "thing" from Canada; an art-rock band with the "art" up to ten, affinity for everything Brit-pop and the most obviously fake British accents since Prozzak finally confirmed the Philosopher Kings as a complete joke. Not that the album didn't garner this attention without reason; most of the album was worthy of the "hype" that maybe ten people (being generous about the amount of people that actually give a shit about Canadian music journalism and it's not like Chart Attack is about to change that) actually read. But more han actual content, End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story was a great promise of things to come from the Montreal-based band, something that is almost entirely ignored by their new album.

With No Cities Left, the Dears appear no less derivative than any other Canadian export getting international attention. Murray Lightburn and his band just opt to focus on another tired scene for their "inspiration": Brit-pop. These isn't the kind of similarities critics pull out of their ass to compare bands while proving how much they really know about better music they've probably never actually heard; one of the first things you're likely to notice about the album is Murray's uncanny similarity to Blur's Damon Albarn and former Smith's frontman Morrissey. Never quite content in nabbing mannerisms from one well-known singer, he constantly switches or combines the two, always evoking that "I know I've heard this voice before, who the hell does he sound like, this is driving me crazy" feeling.

As for the actual music, you ask? It is true, this album does have songs, and nearly all of them suffer the same fate: a few great ideas ruined by the need for everything to be so overblown and melodramatic. First single "Lost in the Plot" is pretty symptomatic of what to expect from the rest of the album: a promising start and then a slow decent into trying to justify still liking it amongst "I promise I won't cry" live-journal lyrics, fake accent and Dave Fridmann-on-crack production."The Second Part," "We Can Have It " and "Pinned Together, Falling Apart" are the only real highlights, and there's barely enough good material to assume they may still turn it around and release the kind of record most Canadian critics are busying trying to justify No Cities Left as.

Despite being a very disappointing record, it's still no surprise most Canadian critics are giving everyone reasons to check the record out; after crowning them kings of Canadian art-rock, it would be stupid of them not to treat the album as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why admit that they'd been giving the wrong bands so much attention when everyone can just pretend this is the kind of album that just floats over everyone's heads and not just bad?

I can't help but shake the notion that the band is just trying far too hard to be a band that they're not, an acting job so awkward that the songs fail as a result. I suppose that's not so surprising either; after all, we're responsible for Keanu Reeves, too.